1000 Words, part 2

Part 1.

So far in pondering the nuances and consequences of the “Equality vs. Justice” image I’ve been focused on the people and their ability to succeed. The other type of consideration the nature of their goal(s).

What are they trying to see?

Despite the stylised, cartoony nature of the image, the background appears to be an actual photograph (albeit a very fuzzy one) of a baseball game. So, the goal of the three people relates to entertainment*. My intuition is that any measures to improve equality (of opportunity) should be prioritised on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—in other words, essentials before luxuries.

Why is there a fence in their way?

The obstacle in this case is an artificial one; someone has intentionally aimed to restrict their access to their goal (the baseball game). The implication is that these people are outside the stadium, but still want to see the game. The fence has been constructed for financial benefit (you have to buy a ticket to get in). Some people might construe this scenario as a form of piracy (enjoying content without paying for it). Regardless of the specific legal ramifications, I would argue that there’s very little (if any) moral transgression here, for the following reasons:

  • They’re not making money from it
  • Getting tickets may have been impossible, either because they couldn’t afford them, or the game may have sold out
  • There’s still an incentive to buy tickets—more comfortable, closer to the action, better view, etc.

The stadium owners may actually like having (small numbers of) fans able to watch like this, as it keeps them enthused about the “product” (baseball), and encourages thoughts like “one day, I’ll be able to get a front-row seat!”. It costs the owners very little, and helps out the disadvantaged.

What if the goal was negative?

For the sake of argument, maybe instead of fans watching a game, this is spies from a rival team trying to see a closed practice session. This flips the desired outcome on its head—now the issue is do you take away their boxes to prevent them seeing? This will work for the medium-height person, but the tallest and shortest people will be penalised ineffectively and unnecessarily (respectively). Much better to make the fence taller.

(Analogously, locking your door is a sensible move to reduce the risk of being burgled. It won’t stop a determined thief, but will deter an opportunist. And there are those who wouldn’t think of burglary regardless).

Alas, the real world is seldom simple, and raising the fence would negatively affect the poorer fans, which goes against the very idea of improving equity. Few things are clear-cut, black-and-white, with obvious solutions. More often, we need to take the time to weigh up pros and cons, risks and rewards.

(And in case my opinion’s not obvious: better to lock your door when you go out, but don’t worry too much about people watching sport over the fence.)


* One could contrive other, more vital, reasons for them to want to watch the game, but they would be contrived. 😉

Most Valuable Players

Okay, so I will get back to the 1000 words idea (at some point—I’m somewhat of a dilettante), but this is what has grabbed my interest at the moment.

The sport I’m most interested in is cricket. If you have no interest in the sport, feel free to ignore this post. 🙂

It’s another intellectual pursuit, I guess, as I was never a particularly good player, but I’ve long felt that the statistics and measurements used to define players leave a lot to be desired. The difference is particularly stark in comparison to its cousin, baseball (compare the Wikipedia pages for baseball stats and cricket stats, even just by length). For example, there are no records related to fielding beyond “number of catches taken”, which is only part of the story. Where were they fielding? How many catches did they not take? How many matches have they played?*

I’m encouraged that some new measures are emerging, like “control percentage” (e.g. how often did a batsman play the ball cleanly), but I also feel that some of the existing measures could use some adjustment. For example, a player’s batting average (total runs / number of times dismissed) can be warped by large numbers of “not-outs”; in extreme cases this can lead to the farcical situation of a player’s average score being higher than their high score. Additionally, all runs are not created equal—a score of 42 in a tight, low-scoring game may be more valuable to the team than a score of 67 in a run-fest that ends in a draw.

In order to better analyse, one must first have data, and fortunately there are a lot of publicly-available scorecards that could be used to delve into various parameters (though again, ignoring some useful measures, but it’s a start). For now, though I’ve examined “Player of the Match” awards. The existing data only gives a ranking for how many times a player has won the award (see here for example). As such, the “ranking” tells you more about longevity** than value, so rather than a raw count, I looked at matches per award for each player***.

While any informed fan (myself included) wouldn’t quibble with the calibre of the names atop the previously-linked list, my calculations yielded a different ordering (though, unsurprisingly, a lot of the same names). Here’s the top 20****:

  1. Vernon Philander (SA) 5.2
    (5 awards in 26 matches)
  2. Wasim Akram (Pak) 6.12
    (17 awards in 104 matches)
  3. Daryl Tuffey (NZ) 6.5
    (4 awards in 26 matches)
  4. Mitchell Johnson (Aus) 6.56
    (9 awards in 59 matches)
  5. Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) 7.0
    (19 awards in 133 matches)
  6. (Sir) Curtly Ambrose (WI) 7.0
    (14 awards in 98 matches)
  7. Jacques Kallis (SA) 7.22
    (23 awards in 166 matches)
  8. Irfan Pathan (India) 7.25
    (4 awards in 29 matches)
  9. Joe Root (Eng) 7.33
    (3 awards in 22 matches)
  10. Kumar Sangakkara (SL) 8.0
    (16 awards in 128 matches)
  11. Imran Khan (Pak) 8.0
    (11 awards in 88 matches)
  12. Stuart Clark (Aus) 8.0
    (3 awards in 24 matches)
  13. Malcolm Marshall (WI) 8.1
    (10 awards in 81 matches)
  14. Rangana Herath (SL) 8.14
    (7 awards in 57 matches)
  15. Dale Steyn (SA) 8.33
    (9 awards in 75 matches)
  16. Aravinda de Silva (SL) 8.45
    (11 awards in 93 matches)
  17. (Sir) Ian Botham (Eng) 8.5
    (12 awards in 102 matches)
  18. Shakib Al Hasan (Ban) 8.5
    (4 awards in 34 matches)
  19. Shane Warne (Aus) 8.53
    (17 awards in 145 matches)
  20. Dean Jones (Aus) 8.67
    (6 awards in 52 matches)

It’s not ground-breaking or anything, but I feel it’s an interesting start.


* Compare two players who have taken 10 catches. Player A has played 7 matches, and dropped 1 catch. Player B has played 40 matches and dropped 12 catches. Which seems to be the better fielder?

** Not to mention that the award was not given out for every match; any ranking of these awards is going to favour players in the modern era.

*** If all players were equally valuable, you would expect (on average) any given player would win an award every 22 matches (two teams of 11 in each match). Having a score lower than this indicates a more valuable player.

**** To prevent outliers I removed players who have played less than 22 matches.

1000 Words, part 1

There’s a picture entitled something like “Equality vs. Justice” that’s cropped up a lot on various sites. I haven’t linked it, because I don’t know the original source, but if you google that phrase you’ll likely find plenty of examples of it.

While pictures may be worth a thousand words, I’ll try to describe the gist in fewer: Three figures—one tall, one short, one average height—are trying to see over a fence to watch a game. In the first panel, labelled “Equality”, each has a box to stand on, but the shortest figure still cannot see over the fence. In the second panel, labelled “Justice” (or, in some versions, “Equity”), the shortest figure has two boxes and is now able to see, and the tallest figure has no box but can still see.

Something not conveyed by the “picture worth a thousand words” adage, though, is that there may be details or implications of a picture that are not apparent. For example, imagine a photograph of two men in suits shaking hands at a press conference; it can take on quite a different meaning and impact depending on who they are and why they are shaking hands. If it represents a peace treaty between your country and its neighbour, for example, it will likely provoke stronger emotions than if it represents a merger agreement between two foreign companies.

The equality/justice picture is cartoony and stylised—the importance is not who these people are*, but in their allegorical value. There are still some points to be considered, however.

Why the height differences?

Are they adult (tall), teen (medium), and child (short); or all adults? Essentially, are the differences between them temporary or permanent; a consequence of age, or genetics? If we wait long enough, will this problem resolve itself?

How were the boxes shifted?

Even if everyone agrees that there’s enough to go around, and the problem could be solved by redistribution, the manner of the solution still matters. Taking from the rich and giving to the poor can provoke feelings of resentment on the one hand, and inferiority on the other. There needs to be a conceptual shift as well—recognising that the inequality is not because the “haves” are inherently better or more worthy than the “have-nots”. People’s intrinsic value needs to be acknowledged as distinct from an assessment of their circumstances**.

More to come next time.


* They appear to be male Caucasians, but this is probably an artifact of the norms of the creator rather than any meaningful choice. Varying the group by gender or ethnicity might have raised unfortunate implications.

** If someone is of the opinion that someone’s value is entirely bound up in their circumstance, then they will disagree on this point. However, I don’t believe any rational people will hold that extreme an opinion, as that’s leading toward the unpalatable side of eugenics.